In 2013 alone, nearly 9 million Americans reported regularly using sleeping pills to get a good night’s rest. The body needs sleep, and it will force it onto you if need be – but there are many situations wherein, out of one reason or another, that sleep simply refuses to come. Insomnia is the dangerous condition of sleeplessness, caused by emotional trauma and depression, pain, stress, and addiction. When someone suffers from insomnia, they have trouble sleeping when they should – which leads to irritability, a constant state of drowsiness and an incapability to function on a normal daily basis.
Understanding insomnia – and understanding sleep in general – is impossible without first understanding how and why your addiction recovery can cause severe restlessness.
What Is Sleep?
We are not entirely sure what sleep is, even after decades of research. However, we do know the basics: sleep is a condition wherein consciousness is suspended, the nervous system takes a break, and many important metabolic processes take place. In a way, sleep is a daily “refresh” button that takes several hours to fully run its course. Sleep is more important for growth early on in life, to the point where children are expected to have at least 10 hours of sleep a day in earlier years. Adults, on the other hand, seem to typically function best with anywhere from 6 to 9 hours of daily sleep, with individual variance.
These extended periods of sleep are made up of several cycles of distinct stages, from light sleep to REM sleep, segments of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement. It’s during this stage of deep sleep that infants and children develop the most, due to how it stimulates the brain regions used for learning. Research also shows that REM sleep is the most important stage of sleep for protein production, and thus muscle growth. A cycle takes about 90 minutes, and we drift in and out of these sleep cycles all throughout an average 7-9 hour sleeping schedule.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
We don’t know why – but we can guess. Most guesses estimate that there are functions the body and brain can’t complete during consciousness, due to how much energy and processing power consciousness takes. Sleep is a chance for the body and the mind to rest and hit a soft reset button. Sleep is typically controlled by your adenosine receptors, which cause drowsiness over the course of the day and are “flushed” over the course of sleep. Caffeine blocks these receptors, thus blocking drowsiness and preventing sleep.
Sleep can either be scheduled as a daily reoccurrence, or in segments throughout the day. Some cultures work into the night, rise with the sun and take naps – shorter instances of sleep – several times throughout the day. Hunter-gatherer societies slept when they could, and it’s believed that we evolved to sleep in the night simply because we’re just not very good at seeing much at night, and sleep might just be the most efficient thing to do at that time.
In other societies, like Japan, napping during the day is a normal part of a work life – it signals that you’re exhausted from hard work and that you practice a devout dedication to your career.
Regardless of how you sleep, it’s unanimously agreed upon that daily sleep is important. The body and mind both undergo several crucial metabolic processes during sleep – and not sleeping causes your body to begin inadvertently drifting in and out of consciousness. This is what makes insomnia, the inability to sleep normally, so dangerous.
Not only do you become irritable, sluggish and are trapped in a state of tiredness, but eventually, insomnia will cause you to drift into microsleep, unintended periods of unconsciousness lasting just a few seconds to a few minutes, at any given point in time. This narcoleptic symptom can manifest in the worst of times, such as on the road.
Insomnia occurs when you’re incapable of sleeping, and there are many reasons for this. The biggest is stress. Emotional or physical stress will keep your mind too busy and too distressed to relax, and relaxing is the most important part of getting a good night’s rest. While depression and oversleeping are often tied together, anxiety and addiction are often conflated with insomnia.
Overcoming insomnia can be done chemically, but it’s not recommended. To truly get to the root of the issue, you must consult a professional and figure out what’s going on in your mind. Addiction can often mask the symptoms of insomnia due to addicts using their substance as a sleeping aid – scheduling their use to force a crash, or using depressants to knock themselves out. Without those substances, many recovering addicts will discover that they have trouble relaxing and enjoying a good deep sleep. In early recovery, this is normal, and something that might simply be treated with a temporary use of sleeping aids. But if it persists, it may be a sign of a deeper emotional issue.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
Addiction is a disease that affects you in mind and body – it carries with it symptoms and comorbidities that affect the way you think, feel, behave, and function. In turn, to successfully overcome an addiction, you must tend to both the mind and the body. One can’t be healthy without the other, and in recovery, working on your mental health means working on your physical health as well.
It all ties in together – good sleep, healthy food and fewer vices will improve your ability to think, to reason, and even to tackle things like depression and anxiety. A balanced diet and regular exercise can change the way your brain functions, bringing balance to your moodiness and even reversing the damaging effects of certain drugs like methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, a healthy body can’t hide a troubled mind. If you’re still at unrest about something – if you catch yourself overthinking, worrying needlessly, getting anxious and panicking over unlikely scenarios, or waking up and having days of doubt and a total lack of feeling, then reach out. Talk to somebody. Find a friend to confide in, tell a therapist about your feelings, and seek out ways to discover what it is that bothers you, and why. Mental health issues are often the symptoms of repressed memories, thoughts and complexes that originated at some unfortunate point in our lives.
In other cases, people are born with it, and therapy exists to help them figure out how best to cope with it without breaking down under the pressures of mental illness.
When you start down the road to combat addiction and remain sober, you’re opening yourself up to a journey of self-discovery, and ultimately, a transformation. Not everyone’s addiction is a symptom of something else, but often enough, an addiction can deeply affect your overall mental health anyways. Getting sober again means confronting every effect the addiction has had on you, while coming to a good conclusion. It means forgiving yourself for past failures and mistakes, and believing in your own ability to stay sober, and live a meaningful life.